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Aram’s Progress Part 3

This is the final part of the excerpts I’m publishing from Aram McLean’s forthcoming book, Aram’s Progress: A Boy in the Hands of an Angry World. Aram went to an Accelerated Christian Education school, like me, and these excerpts give a striking idea what that’s like.

This part ends with a story that some of you might find incredible. Even I am unsure what to make of it. On balance, though, I’m inclined to believe it. Part of the difficulty I face with this blog is getting people with no experience of this kind of religious fanaticism to comprehend the scale of it – it must often seem exaggerated. I believe Aram’s story because I could believe it of fundamentalist leaders I encountered, including my own school teachers. My pastor’s daughter confided in me that his idea of a reasonable punishment included dragging his own son – by the ear – along the landing and down the stairs. So, frankly, nothing would surprise me.

All three parts of Aram’s story are here.

Part 1, in which Aram explains how a learning center [sic] operates

Personal little flags were heavily utilized in the ACE system. To go up to the scoring station to self-check your PACE work so far, or to use the toilet, you unfurled a Canadian flag above your desk. If your bladder was full, you could only pray that the volunteering monitors and regular supervisors weren’t too tied up with other students, or each other. God only knew if He’d get them to answer your plea in time, to allow you to go and plop your holy offering into the sacred bowl of the ceramic alter.

To ask a question about a particular subject – say for example, “but doesn’t the story of Bathsheba mean that King David was a blatant murderer?” – you had to put up a so-called Christian flag; basically a little white number with a small red cross atop a blue corner. You were supposed to work on your other subjects while you waited – like maybe your Social Studies PACE which was informing you that this time they’d found the Ark on Ararat for sure, or your Biology PACE which was letting you know that mental illnesses were caused by demon possession and only prayer could cure them – until finally a passing supervisor or monitor kicked you out of your seat to lend a hand.  Read the rest of this entry

Aram’s Progress, Part 2

This is part two of my serialisation of excerpts from Aram McLean’s forthcoming memoir. For all parts, see here.

My ACE school moved a lot in the early years. The first place to accept it was a small church which also believed in a good Christian upbringing for every child. As such, they let us roll our rows of custom-made little kid offices into their back room. They also let us use their large cold basement for gym class, awards banquets, and other important recreations.

After two years in their backroom, the little church wasn’t so happy about us anymore. Our principal, Mr Jordan, may have rubbed a few of the Elders the wrong way, but I couldn’t say for sure. Perhaps they simply got tired of the seeing children wandering about the corridors looking shell-shocked, like they’d just seen a holy ghost or something.

The Doctrines of Grace had certainly become a hot topic of contention that second year as well. Serious rifts split down the middle of the little school and more than a few parents decided to take their kids out of it, by their own free will.

Various locations around town followed as believers came together and then disagreed, and we carefully packed our plywood rows of offices around to each new place. We took over a farmhouse for a while, then a couple adjoining rooms in a motel, and finally the lower half of a family home. It helped that we weren’t a large school, and that turnover was high.

My own life during this time often seemed to be a series of near misses, combined with more than a few direct hits. And right from the early days of the first church building’s little backroom, things didn’t feel too good.


One recess during this early time, I was playing with my seven-year-old brother Devon, when Mr Jordan unexpectedly stepped into the room. He smiled at us in a very strange way. Our laughter froze in both our throats. Read the rest of this entry

Aram’s Progress, part 1

Hey hey. A new year treat for you, readers. Aram McLean, a reader from Canada, has sent me excerpts from his forthcoming memoir for your general edification. He’s sent a lot of stuff, so I’m breaking it into parts.

It’s difficult to convey to someone who wasn’t there the soul-destroying banality of day-to-day life in an ACE school. It isn’t the dogma that gets you down; it’s the rules – an avalanche of unnecessary legalism. And if you don’t follow them, it’s not just the punishments, it’s the endless lectures, the time lost while someone explains how filling in your goal card according to ACE procedures is crucial to the condition of your immortal soul. It isn’t, of course, but it is crucial to making you an obedient servant of God, who can be moulded into the person ACE wants you to be.

I think Aram’s done a great job of capturing that.

The other thing I’m struck by is how consistent the reports I get from ACE schools are. Aram’s Mr. Jordan could have taught at my school. Given that training for ACE schools is incredibly brief and not centralised, I’m amazed at how effectively almost all the schools seem to have the same atmosphere.

Part 1, in which Aram attends a most Holy school

Life during the ACE school days, back when the years passed like decades, wasn’t just about intolerance towards the damned, of course. As well there was always a year-end Awards Banquet, when the student with the consistently neatest office or the nicest penmanship or the perfect attendance or the most Bible verses memorized in total, and so on, would hear her or his name called out in front of their peers and elders, and be able to step proudly, though not too proudly, up to the front to accept their medal, knowing that yes, when it came to things like tidiness and/or anal retention, by God they were gliding right beside Him, in that moment.

Our workbooks were called PACE’s and, using a specially-made goal card, the first order of business every morning, after the aesthetic inspection and singing and sermonizing was done, was to write down our total page number goals for each subject for the day. There were Math PACE’s and English PACE’s, American History PACE’s and Bible History PACE’s, Word Building/Etymology PACE’s and Science PACE’s, et cetera. Everything they thought you needed to know. There were no labs or group assignments, no discussion or brainstorming sessions in general, and praying was encouraged as a legitimate teaching aid.

Read the rest of this entry